The Multiculturalism Manoevre

The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is now the latest entry to a large and growing category of persons, those who have pronounced “the failure of multiculturalism.” You’ve doubtless encountered this claim, which has been issued throughout the Nordic states as well as across the Continent and in the United States and Canada. It’s a divisive, captious sort of assertion, and so let’s now take a deep breath and submit it to some critical reflection.

The first thing one ought to come out and say is that at issue are those adherents of the Muslim religion committed to total war against the West, and more specific against secularism. When Louise Beaudoin asserted that multiculturalism is a Canadian and not a Quebec value, the back story was a legislative committee hearing on Bill 94 and a Sikh defence of the niqab. In Britain, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Canada and the United States, the jihadist menace has constituted the ground in which to plant the death of multiculturalism.

So far as I can tease out the meaning of this notion, it appears to me as fairly reducible to the following: everyone who chooses to live in a new country ought to be wholly assimilated to that country, and ought not to cling to the values and trappings of the place one has left behind. What is dead, then, is the liberal supposition that there is positive value in the baggage one brings from Over There. The fetish of multiculturalism having been buried, we can advance upon the better foundation of uniculturalism, which is to say one tongue and one law and, in short, one shared identity for all.

There are in my estimation two problems confronting this assumption. The first is logical. It happens that a high proportion of those persons attacking, or having been discovered planning to attack, Western cultures from within Western countries have been to a high degree acculturated and assimilated. If you’ve been paying attention, you are now familiar with the educated, second-generation Iranian-Canadian or Yemeni-British physician (or whatever it happens to be) who in his thirties discovers jihadism on the Internet. The near-invariable bit in this phenomenon is the chorus of the incredulous, the many neighbours and co-workers and friends who “did not see it coming.” And do I need explain the reason they did not see it coming? Well, because, as they say, he was just one of us. If you doubt that I am right about this, please do review the example of Anjem Choudary and the instances of terrorist activities within the Western democratic countries, for example the case of Khurram Syed Sher.

The second problem is the discernible co-habitation of “multiculturalism is dead” with dubious impulses, for examples British nostalgia over the lost Empire and Parti Québécois fears about the anglicization of the cities. At-hand is the day when “white” people will be the minority in American cities, and I suspect anxiety about this informs the politics of anti-multiculturalism also, an example being the Official Language lobby in the United States. Multiculturalism is today being scapegoated for everything from economic decline and lost prestige to gang violence and terrorism. It is instructive to observe Peter Hitchens depart the rails on this subject, indulging along the way his weird and extreme obsession with cannabis as well as with the diminished standing of the Church. Imagine the world in which one really can determine that the Arizona shooting was “caused” by marijuana and that Christian piety is a sufficient prophylaxis against the spread of gang violence. It happens also to be the world in which an “identity bill” (as proposed by the Parti Québécois) and the constitutional entrenchment of official languages and the legislated enforcement of Britishness, or any such notion of solidarity, will ensure the peace. In other words, a fantasy world.

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